In the next chapter of A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, Bettina knocks the socks off yet another relative, with her newfangled "fireless cooker" that makes an after-church company dinner relatively effortless.
Versions of "fireless" cooking, heat-retention cooking, or haybox/hay box cookers are known around the world (and are very interesting to aid workers and others looking for creative solutions--lots of info and links at that site). I remember reading about them years ago in Living More with Less...the idea was to dig a hole in the ground (or use a container like a wooden box), put in some kind of insulating material, then add your pot of stew or beans or porridge; then cover it up and leave it all day. Like a crockpot without a cord. According to what I've read online, this kind of "cooking" is also popular with campers who heat their food in the morning and then leave it wrapped in a sleeping bag while they go off for the day. (A caution, if you're thinking about trying this: I've read that there is some risk of the food not staying warm enough with these methods and therefore risking contamination, which is why Bettina reheated her string beans in a previous chapter before serving them. I don't know what she did with Sunday's lamb.)
Although homemade versions were still used in Bettina's time (partly prompted by fuel shortages during WWI), and are still popular even today with people trying to conserve energy (along with solar cookers) or survive disasters, she is using one of the commercial versions that were available then. (It's not obvious from this chapter, but later on the book mentions disks that had to be preheated and inserted in the cooker.)
Is this something we should look into more? Well, around here the issue of cooking costs has become a hot topic, particularly since our hydro bill is now based on "time of use." Wash your clothes or cook your dinner in the middle of the night, and you're good; do those things at normal times, and you pay extra. Mr. Fixit tells Mama Squirrel that it's not even such a good idea now to turn the oven on to make granola, or to cook grains overnight in the slow cooker--not if you're doing those things for frugality reasons, anyway. There seem to be so many options and opinions: use the microwave more? the toaster oven? the pressure cooker? don't ever bake unless it's the middle of the night? Will some new version of commercial "fireless cookers" suddenly become a mainstream option?
(Or maybe somebody's already selling them on late-night TV, and I'm just behind the times.)
Your thoughts? Did you ever cook in a hay box?